For several years now I have been “actively” writing. That is, upon being struck with a killer idea and taking a class that forced me to produce something on a semi-regular basis, I have now been working on some sort of manuscript ever since. However, those years have been filled with long lulls of inactivity and un-productivity, most commonly known as either writer’s block or just plain ol’ busyness of life (other classes, getting married, graduating, going overseas, paying the bills, hanging with friends, etc.).
At times, the writing comes easy, and I’ve been able to overcome the busyness, and have shelled out large chunks of work in short periods. And then, the newness of the writing gets worn off, or the story itself stands still, or I begin to wonder where things are going, or I’m just overwhelmed by the gravity of a certain pivotal scene in the story, which I want to get just right. Eventually, the writing fades, and as a result I completed the first draft (though there were other partial drafts before it) of THE LINGERING SHADOW over the course of about two years-ish, an abhorrently long period for one draft, even if it does clock in at 100,000 words.
I never wrote with goals or on a schedule before, unless I was taking a writing class with deadlines (in all honesty, that was the only reason I took the classes, so that I would be forced to work on my precious MS). I wrote the first half of the book over the course of maybe six months, when I was motivated and had a critique group (I’ll blog about those soon) keeping me producing regularly, though six months is still slow for half a book. Then, I got stuck. I wasn’t sure how to pull off a big transition in the narrative. And I got busy (don’t the two always come hand in hand? Block and busyness?). I almost completely set it aside for four or five months. Then, I got going again. Though I wasted loads of time editing things I totally threw out in the second draft (I’ll blog about that soon as well), I moved forward again for a few more chapters and got stuck again. I didn’t write for nearly nine months (Planning a wedding is a real time-sucker, let me tell you!).
Then, winter storm ATLAS struck the Midwest, and I was snowed-in for three days with a wife who needed to catch up on homework. And so I, with nothing better to do, all excuses gone, picked the book up again. I decided that, rather than spend time editing to build back into the flow of the story, I would just try jumping right back in. I’d been reading over what I’d written over the previous few weeks, trying to find the time to write again, trying to get the voice and the feel back. But I just went for it. It was a little shaky, but I got it, and I wrote a monumental couple chapters during that blizzard.
I was so excited I set a goal to keep myself going. I had been longing to finish the book for so long, so I could finally see if it went anywhere. Finally, with a third of the book to go, and the end in sight, I vowed to be done by New Year’s Day, two and a half months away. I got real busy again, once the blizzard passed, and I had to go back to work and to life. But the goal suddenly was always somewhere in the back of my mind, haunting me. And I met the goal. I finished on New Year’s Eve (I spent the whole day writing the final chapter).
But finishing, I realized, was only the beginning.
Perhaps you too have struggled to stay consistently productive. I’ve read several books on the process of writing, but they often come from the perspectives of professional writers, who it is their full-time job to write. Most of us don’t yet have that luxury. Here are my suggestions, which helped me finish my completely re-worked and re-written second draft in under three months. This is no formula. Only some suggestions.
Set a Goal for Yourself
Really this applies to anything in life, but certainly for writers, for we seem to have a procrastinate tendency. Set a goal for yourself, make it attainable within your schedule. Tell yourself you want to write 5 or 10 or 20,000 words a month, and make adjustments in your life to meet that goal. The only key is to write. And, I believe, the quicker you can get the story down, the better. Long months or years or writing give you time to forget things in the story, or why you’re even writing it at all. Hold onto the initial fire and excitement, and make yourself keep going. Staying regularly in the story is also very helpful to avoid block (not a cure, but it helps). Things stay much more vivid in your mind.
Rearrange Your Schedule
There are a lot of lazy (and unpublished) writers out there. There are many who consider themselves writers, who dream of publication, or even just of having a completed story, but don’t take the necessary measures to accomplish their goal. You probably have more free time than you realize. Turn off the TV a bit, stay off the Internet, and use that time to write. It may mean saying no to those season tickets, or to going to the bar Friday night, or whatever it is. If you’re not published, you are more than likely working full-time, and/or parenting full-time. I get it. Life is busy. I know. But with your goal set, now you’ve got to take the next step. Don’t give yourself an excuse. Use you time wisely. Wake up earlier. Stay up a little later. You can’t mess around. I look at the beginning of each week and plan the windows I know I can get some writing done, and I do it. I pack that time.
Establish a Distraction-Free Environment
This seems obvious, but since we live in a multi-tasking, technological age, it is always so tempting. Turn the radio off, unless music helps you ( and then more power to you). Resist the Facebook and Twitter temptation to announce to everyone that you are #writing right now as you post. Duh. Go into full-screen mode. Go somewhere alone where it’s quiet. Coffee shops are often not the best for real productivity. Get up before the kids, or stay up after they go to bed. Or set them in front of a movie. Whatever it takes. Get rid of those distractions, and write!
Write, Write, and Keep Reading
The more you write, the better you get. It doesn’t end once you finish a manuscript. There are more drafts and a crap-ton of editing to come. And that’s before you get an editor, and the real work begins. Keep setting writing goals for yourself. Make writing a part of your weekly routine. And keep at it. And just as important, keep reading good books. The best way to know good writing is to read lots of it, and it will start to bleed into your own.
Good luck out there. Leave a comment and let me know what your process is.